Part 6 out of 7
little houses had taken on a certain worth of picturesqueness, suggestive
of the bazaar of some far-away Oriental city rather than of a vulgar
London suburb, the summer night even here producing an exquisiteness of
effect and making itself very sensibly felt. Poppy silently motioned her
guest to the further of the two cane deck-chairs set in the recess,
arranged a cushion at his back, drew up a little mother-of-pearl inlaid
table beside him, poured coffee into two cups. Then she moved across to
the rail of the balcony, and stood there, her head thrown back, her hands
clasped behind her, facing the moonlight, which covered her slender
rounded figure from head to foot as with a pale transparent veil of
infinite tenuity. Iglesias could see the rise and fall of her bosom, the
flutter of her eyelids, the involuntary movement of her lips as she
pressed them together, restraining, as might be divined, words to which
she judged it wiser to deny utterance.
And this hardly repressed excitement in Poppy's bearing and aspect, along
with the peculiar scene and circumstances in which he found himself,
worked profoundly upon Dominic Iglesias. In passing through that scented,
half-discovered, fantastically lighted bedchamber and stepping out into
the magic of the night, he had stepped out, in imagination, into regions
dreamed of in earlier years--when reading poetry or hearing music,--but
never fairly entered, still less enjoyed, since all the duties and
obligations of his daily life militated against and even forbade
such enjoyment. The weariness of his work in the City, the petty
annoyances he suffered at Cedar Lodge, the haunting disgust of de Courcy
Smyth's presence, fell away from him, becoming for the time as though they
were not. He never had been, nor was he now, in any degree self-indulgent
or a sentimentalist. The appeal of the present somewhat enchanted hour was
to the intellect and the spirit, rather than sensuous, still less sensual.
Nevertheless, an almost passionate desire of earthly beauty took him--of
the beauty of things seen, of things plastic, beauty of the human form;
beauty of far-distant lands and the varied pageant of their aspect and
history; of great rivers flowing seaward; of tombs by the wayside; of the
glorious terror of the desert's naked face; of languorous fountain-cooled
gardens, close hid in the burning heart of ancient cities; beauty of
sound, beauty of words and phrases, above all, of the eternal beauty of
youth and the illimitable expectation and hope of it.
And it was out of all this, out of the mirage of these vast elusive
prospects and apprehensions, that he answered Poppy St. John, as with
serious eyes yet smiling lips she turned, and coming across the white
floor sat down beside him, saying:
"How goes it, Dominic? Are you rested?"
"Yes," he answered, "I am rested. And more than that, I am alive and
awake, strangely awake and full of vision--thanks to you."
Poppy's expression sweetened, becoming protective, maternal. She leaned
back in her chair and folded her hands in her lap; yet there was still a
certain tension in her expression, an intensity as of inward excitement in
"Tell me things, then," she said, "tell me things about yourself, if the
gift of seeing is upon you.--There's no one to overhear. The neighbours on
both sides are away for the holidays, thank the powers! and their houses
stand empty. While the voices and footsteps down in the road only make us
more happily alone. So tell me things, Dominic. I am a trifle stirred up
with all this affair of the theatre, and you always quiet me. I'm really a
very good child. I deserve a treat. And there are things I dreadfully want
"Alas! there is so absurdly little to tell," Iglesias answered, "that,
here and now, in face of my existing sense of life and of vision, I am
humbled by my own ignorance and poverty of achievement. That poverty, I
suppose, is all the more apparent to me, because twice to-day I have
been--so I judge, at least--within measurable distance of bidding farewell
to this astonishingly wonderful world and the fashion of it. It comes home
to me how little I have seen, how little I have profited, how little I
know. I would have liked to leave it; it would be more seemly to do so,
having profited more largely by my sojourn here."
Iglesias paused, excitement which his natural sobriety disapproved gaining
him, too, through that ache of unrealised beauty. For a moment he
struggled with it as with a rising tide, then resigned himself.
"And yet," he added, "in other respects I should not be sorry to hear the
hour strike, for curiosity of the unknown is very strong in me.
Opportunity may have been narrow, and one may have been balked of high
endeavour and rich experience, by lack of talent and by adverse
circumstances; but in the supreme, the crowning experience, that of death
and all which, for joy or sorrow, lies beyond it, even the most obscure,
the most uncultured and untravelled must participate."
"Don't be in too great a deuce of a hurry to satisfy that curiosity, dear
man," Poppy put in. "You must contrive to exercise patience for a little
while yet, please; always remembering that it is entirely superfluous to
run to catch a train which is bound not to start until you are on board of
it. And then, too, you see--well, there's me, after all, and I want you."
Iglesias' face grew keen, as he looked at her through that encompassing
whiteness of moonlight.
"I am glad of that," he said very quietly, "because you are to me, dear
friend, what no other human being has ever yet been. The saddest thing
that could happen to me, save loss of faith, would be that you should
cease to want me. I only pray God, if it is not self-seeking, that you
may continue to want me as long as I live."
"But your religion?" she asked, a point of jealousy pricking her.
"My religion forbids sin, whether of body or mind; forbids violation of
the eternal spiritual proportion, by any placing of the creature before
the Creator in a man's action or in his heart. But my religion enjoins
love and stimulates it; since only through loving can we fulfil the
highest possibility of our nature, which is to grow into the likeness of
"You believe that?" Poppy asked again.
"I do more," Iglesias said. "I know it."
Then both fell silent, having reached the place where words hinder rather
than help thought. And, as it happened, just then the stillness was
sensibly broken up, and the magic of the night encroached upon by the
passing of a couple of _char-a-bancs_ in the road below, loaded up
with trippers faring homewards from a day's outing at Hampton Court. The
tired teams jog-trotted haltingly. The wheels whispered hoarsely in the
muffling dust; and voices mingled somewhat plaintively in the singing of
a then popular khaki sing--"The Soldiers of the Queen." Hearing all of
which, as the refrain died away Londonwards up the great suburban
road, the compelling drama and pathos of life as the multitude lives
it--stupidly, without ideas, without any conscious nobility of purpose,
yet with a certain blundering and clumsy heroism--took Poppy St. John by
the throat. Those who stand aside from that democratic everyday drama,
rejecting alike the common joys and common sorrows of it, have need--so it
seemed to her--to account for and justify themselves lest they become
suspect. Therefore she looked at Dominic Iglesias intently, questioningly,
hesitated a moment, and then spoke.
"Still I don't understand you, in your determined detachment of attitude.
Tell me, if you are not afraid of love, why have you never married?" she
And he, divining to an extent that which inspired her question, smiled at
her somewhat proudly as he answered.
"Be under no misapprehension, dear friend. I am a perfectly normal piece
of flesh and blood, with a man's normal passions, and his natural craving
for wife, and child, home, family, and the like. But during my mother's
lifetime I was bound to other service than that of marriage."
"But in these years since her death?" Poppy asked.
"There is a time for everything, as the Preacher testifies, a due and
proper time which must be observed if life is to be a reasoned progress,
not a mere haphazard stumbling from the weakness of childhood to the
incapacity of old age. And, can anything be more objectionably at variance
with that wise teaching than the spectacle of amorous uxorious
efflorescence in a man of well over fifty?"
Poppy permitted herself a lively grimace.
"All the same you have sacrificed yourself, as usual," she said.
"Not so very greatly, perhaps," Iglesias replied, with a soberly humorous
expression. "For I have always been very exacting and have asked very
much. I am culpably fastidious. My tastes are far beyond my means, my
desires out of all reasonable relation to my station and my merits. And it
should be remembered that my circle of acquaintances has been a very
limited one, until quite recently--I do not wish to appear more glaringly
arrogant or discourteous than I actually am. I had my ideal. It happened
that I failed to realise it; and I am very impatient of compromise in
matters of intimate and purely personal import. In respect of them I hold
I have an unqualified right to consult my own tastes. It has always been
easier to me to go without than to accept a second-best."
"In point of fact no woman was good enough! Poor brutes!"
Poppy mused a little, with averted face.
"How beastly cheap they'd all feel--I've not forgotten the undulating and
aspiring withered leaf--if they knew how mightily they all fell short!"
she added naughtily. Suddenly she looked round at Dominic Iglesias. Her
eyes were as stars, but her lips trembled. "Bless me, but you've
extensively original methods of conveying information! It's lucky for me
I've a steady head. So--so it comes to this--I reign all alone?" she said.
"Yes, dear friend, save for my love for my mother--such as the throne is
or ever has been--you reign alone," Iglesias answered quietly.
Poppy rested her elbows upon her knees, dropped her face into her hands,
and sat thus bowed together in the whiteness of the moonlight.
"Ah, dear!" she murmured presently, brokenly, "I've got my answer. It's
better and--worse, than I expected. All the same I'm content--that's to
say, the best of me is--royally, consummately content.--Thank you a
thousand times, thrice-beloved and very most exceedingly unworldy-wise
one," she said.
Then for a while both were silent, wrapped about by, and resting in, the
magic of the summer night. When Poppy roused herself at last to speak, it
was in a different key, studiously matter-of-fact.
"Look here, dear man, do you in the least realise how extremely far gone
you were when I arrived to you on Barnes Common this evening? Because I
tell you plainly I didn't in the very least like it. In my opinion it is
high time you gave up dragging that Barking Brothers & Barking cart."
"I shall give up doing so very soon," Iglesias replied. "Just now I am
acting as manager. Sir Abel is at Marienbad, and the other partners are
out of town."
"I like that--lazy animals!" Poppy said.
"But the situation is in process of righting itself--has practically
righted itself already."
"Thanks to you."
"In part, no doubt. There was a disposition to panic, which rendered it
exceedingly difficult to get accurate and definite information at first.
However, I arrived at the necessary data with patience and diplomacy, and
was able to draw out a clear detailed statement. This proved so far
satisfactory that Messrs. Gommee, Hills, Murray & Co. and Pavitt's Bank
have considered themselves justified in undertaking to finance Barking
Brothers until business in South Africa has resumed its ordinary course."
"Then the elderly plungers are saved?"
"Yes, I believe, practically they are saved," Iglesias said. "And,
therefore, as soon as Sir Abel has finished his cure and returns I shall
Poppy rose, clapping her hands together with irritation.
"Sir Abel's cure be hanged!" she cried. "What do I care about his idiotic
old liver or his gout, or anything else. Let him pay the price of steadily
over-eating himself for more than half a century. I've no use for him.
What I have a use for is you, dear man; more than ever now, don't you
see," her voice softened, became caressing, "after our recent little
explanation. And you shan't kill yourself. I won't have it. I won't allow
it. Therefore be reasonable, my good dear. Put away your mania of
self-immolation--or keep it exclusively for my benefit. Write and tell the
Barking man to hurry up with his liver and his gout. Tell him you're being
sweated to death dragging his rotten old banking cart, and that he's just
got to come home and set you free, and get between the shafts and do the
dragging and sweating himself.--Ah, there's the hansom. You must go. I'd
no notion it was so late."
And so it came about that, once more, Dominic Iglesias followed the
Lady of the Windswept Dust into the faintly scented bedchamber, where
fantastic brightness of gaslight and moonlight chequered the polished
surfaces of the dark furniture, the green silk coverlet and hangings,
the dimly-patterned ceiling and walls. His instinct was to pass on, as
quickly as might be, to the secure commonplace of the landing without. But
half-way across the room, at the foot of the low-pillared and brass-inlaid
bedstead, Poppy St. John stopped, and turned swiftly, barring his passage
with extended arms.
"Stay a minute, for probably we shall never meet in this poor little house
again, best beloved one," she said. "It is too far out. I must move into
town. Lionel puts the play into rehearsal next week, and I must live near
the theatre. And then, too--well, you know, since I've made up my mind,
it's best to clean the slate even in respect of one's dwelling-place.
Memories stick, stick like a leech; and they raise emotions of a slightly
disturbing character sometimes. I am sure of myself; and yet I know it's
safest to make a clean sweep of whatever reminds me of all the forbidden
dear damned lot. I regret nothing--don't imagine that. I'm keen on my
work. The artist, after all, is the strongest thing in me. I'm quite
happy, now I have made up my mind. My nose is in the air. I can look
creation in the face without winking an eyelid. I can respect myself. And
I'm tremendously grateful to Lionel Gordon for taking me on spec, and to
Fallowfeild for greasing the creature's Caledonian-Teutonic-Hebraic palm
for me. Still--still--you can imagine, can't you, that, take it all round,
it's not precisely a Young Woman's Christian Association blooming picnic
party for me just at present?"
Poppy dashed her hand across her eyes, half laughing, half sobbing.
"Ah, love me, Dominic, love me, in your own way, the clean way--that's all
I ask, all that I want--only love me always," she said.
She laid her hands on Iglesias' shoulders and threw back her head. And he,
holding her, bending down kissed her white face, soft heavy hair, over-red
lips, her tragic and unfathomable eyes--which looking on the evil and
measuring the very actual immediate delights of it, still had courage, in
the end, to reject it and choose the good--kissed them reverently,
gravely, proudly, with the chastity and chivalry of perfect friendship.
"Ah! that's better. I'm better. Bless you; don't be afraid. I'll play fair
to the finish--only keep well. Quit that rotten old bank.--Now go, dear
man, go," Poppy said.
During the past six weeks events had galloped. To Iglesias it appeared
that changes were in course of arriving in battalions. He neither hailed
nor deplored them, but met them with a stoical patience. To realise them
clearly, in all their bearings, would have been to add to the sense of
fatigue from which he too constantly suffered. More than sufficient to
each day was the labour thereof. So he looked beyond, to the greater
repose and freedom which, as he trusted, lay ahead.
Upon the morning immediately in question he had closed his work at the
bank. Sir Abel's demeanour had been characteristic. His clothes, it is
true, still hung loosely upon him. His library chair and extensive
writing-table appeared a world too big. For he was shrunken and had
become an old man. Yet, though signs of chastening thus outwardly declared
themselves, in spirit he had regained tone and returned to his former high
estate. Along with the revival of financial security had come a revival of
pomposity, an addiction to patronage in manner and platitudes in speech.
He had ceased to be humble and human, self-righteous self-complacency
again loudly announcing itself.
"So you propose to retire, you ask to be relieved of your duties, my good
friend?" he asked of Iglesias, who had requested the favour of an
interview in his private room. "Let us, then, congratulate ourselves upon
the fact that I have returned from my sojourn upon the continent with so
far renovated health that I feel equal to meeting the arduous
responsibilities of my position unaided; and am not, consequently,
compelled, out of a sense of duty either to myself or to my colleagues, to
offer any objection to your retirement. Before we part I should, however,
wish to place it clearly on record that my confidence, both in the
soundness of my own judgment and in our capacity, as capitalists, to meet
any strain put upon our resources, was not misplaced. This no one can, I
think, fail to admit. Our house emerges from this period of trial with the
hall-mark of public sympathy and esteem upon it. And, in this connection,
it is instructive to note the working of the law of compensation. This
war, for example, which to the ordinary mind might have appeared an
unmixed evil, since it threatened to jeopardise our position among the
leading financiers of the capital of the civilised world, has, in the
event, served, not only to consolidate our position, but to unmask the
practices of that unscrupulous and self-seeking member of our firm, my
unhappy nephew Reginald, and afford us legitimate excuse for his removal.
We appeared to touch on disaster; but, by that very means, we have been
enabled to rid ourselves of a canker. Still this must remain a painful
Sir Abel became pensive, fixing his gaze, the while, upon the portrait
adorning the wall over against him. To an acute observer the said portrait
had always been subtly ironical. Now it had become coarsely so--a
merciless caricature of the shrivelled old gentleman whom it represented,
and to whom it bore much the same resemblance as a balloon soaring
skywards, fully inflated, bears to that same object with half the gas let
out of it in a condition of flabby and wobbling semi-collapse.
"A painful subject," he repeated nobly--"I refrain from enlarging upon it,
and pass to other matters. As to the part you yourself have borne in the
history of our recent anxieties, Iglesias, I feel I cannot do less than
tender you the thanks of myself and my co-partners. I do not disguise from
you that a tendency existed to criticise my action in summoning you, to
dub your business methods antiquated, and question your ability to march
with the times. But these objections proved, I am happy to think,
unfounded. The faith I reposed in you has been justified. And I may tell
you, in confidence, that, should the occasion for doing so arise, my
colleagues will in future have as little hesitation in calling upon your
services as I should have myself."
The speaker paused, as for applause. And Dominic, who had remained
standing during this prolonged oration--no suggestion having been made on
the present occasion that he should be seated--proceeded to acknowledge
the peculiar compliment just paid him, with somewhat sardonic courtesy.
"Your words are extremely reassuring, Sir Abel," he remarked calmly.
The gentleman addressed regarded him sharply for a moment, as though
doubtful of the exact purport of his words. Then, suspicion of covert
sarcasm being clearly inadmissible, Sir Abel spoke again in his largest
platform manner, although the tones of his voice, like his person, were
shrunken, docked of the fulness of their former rotundity and unction.
"It has ever been my effort to reward merit by encouragement," he replied.
"And, were testimony to the wisdom of my practice, in this particular,
needed, I should point, I candidly tell you, my good friend, to the
excellent results of my recent demand upon your cooperation and support."
He leaned sideways in his chair, assuming the posture of the portrait,
conscious of having really said a very handsome thing indeed to his
ex-head-clerk. "For," he added, "I sincerely believe in the worth of
example. It is hardly too much to assert that a generous and high-minded
employer eventually stamps the employed with a reflection, at least, of
his own superior qualities."
Again he paused. But truth to tell, Dominic Iglesias had not only grown
very weary of discourse and discourser, but somewhat impatient also. He had
hoped better things of the man after the nasty shaking fortune had
recently given him. Consequently he was disappointed; for it was very
effectually borne in upon him that only absence of feathers makes for
grace in a goose. Once the nudity of the foolish bird covered, it hisses,
and that loudly, to the old tune. Hence, in the interests of Christian
charity, he agreed with himself to cut short the interview, lest anger
should get the better of toleration.
"I think we have now discussed all questions calling for your personal
attention, Sir Abel," he said, "and all documents and correspondence
relating to affairs during your absence have been placed in your hands. If
therefore you have nothing further to ask me, I need not encroach any
longer upon your valuable time."
With that, after a brief pause, he moved towards the door; but the other
man, half rising from his chair, called after him.
"Iglesias, your attention for one moment--that matter of a salary?"
"I supposed I had made my terms perfectly clear, Sir Abel," Dominic
"No doubt, in the first instance. But should you have reconsidered your
decision, and should you think the pension you enjoy an insufficient
remuneration, I am empowered to make you the offer, in addition, of a
fixed salary for the past six months."
Listening to which tardy and awkward recognition of his own rather
princely dealings, Mr. Iglesias' temper began to rise, his jaw to grow
rigid, and his eyes dangerously alight.
"I am not in the habit of changing my mind, Sir Abel," he said. "I
proposed to make you a free gift of my time and such experience as I
may possess. Nothing has occurred to alter or modify that intention.
There are circumstances, into which I do not choose to enter, which would
render it extremely distasteful to me to accept anything--over and above
my pension--from yourself or from any member of your family or firm."
Here Sir Abel, who had been standing, sagged down,
half-empty-balloon-like, into his chair. Again he eyed Iglesias sharply,
doubtful of the exact purport of his speech. But again suspicion of covert
sarcasm, still more of covert rebuke, being to him quite inconceivable, he
rejoined with a condescension which he could not but feel was altogether
"Enough, enough, my good friend. That is sufficient. I will detain you no
longer; but will merely add that I commend your reticence while
appreciating the sentiments which dictate your refusal. These it is easy
to interpret. They shall not be forgotten, since they constitute a very
suitable acknowledgment of the advantages and benefits which have accrued
to you during you long association with my partners and myself."
Later, journeying westward upon the 'bustop, Dominic Iglesias meditated in
a spirit of humorous pity upon the above conversation. He was very glad he
had not lost his temper. Eyes blinded by self-worship, an inpenetrable
hide, these things, too, have their uses in time--very practical uses,
which it would be silly to ignore. Why, then, be angry? The truly wise
man, as Dominic told himself with a somewhat mournful smile, learns to
leave such time-wise fools as Sir Abel Barking to Almighty God for
chastisement, because--if it can be said without irreverence--the
Almighty alone has wit enough to deal with them. And, for his comfort on
lower levels, he reminded himself that though the house of Barking might
show him scant gratitude, and attribute its financial resurrection to its
own inherent virtue, this was not the opinion held by outsiders. The
manager of Pavitt's Bank, and certain members of Goome, Hills, Murray &
Co., had congratulated Iglesias, personally, upon his admirable conduct
of affairs during the crisis, and assured him of the high respect they had
conceived for his judgment, his probity, and business acumen. In this
there was satisfaction of a silent but deep-seated sort--satisfaction of
pride, since he had accomplished that which he had set forth to
accomplish: satisfaction of honour through unbiassed and unsolicited
commendation. With that satisfaction he bade himself rest thankfully
content, while turning his thoughts to other and more edifying subjects.
And, in this connection, it was inevitable that a former journeying
westward upon a 'bustop should occur to him, with its strange record of
likeness and unlikeness in circumstance and outlook. Then, as now,
somewhat outworn in mind and in health, he had closed a period of
labour and faced new conditions, new habits, unaccustomed freedom and
leisure. But now on matters of vital, because of eternal, importance, his
mind was at rest. Loneliness and on-coming old age had ceased to disquiet
him. The ship of his individual fate no longer drifted rudderless or
risked danger of stranding, but steered steadily, fearlessly, towards the
promise of a secure and lovely harbourage. The voyage might be long or
short. At this moment Dominic supposed himself indifferent in the matter,
since he believed--not presumptuously, but through the outreaching of a
great faith--that the end was certain. And meditating, just now, upon that
gracious conviction, while the red-painted half-empty omnibus fared onward
down Piccadilly, a sense of the unusual graciousness of things immediate
and visible took hold on him.
For to-day the monstrous mother, London-town, wore a pensive and delicate
aspect. The tender melancholy of early autumn was upon her, she looking
etherealised and even youthful, as does a penitent cleansed from the soil
of past transgressions by fasting and tears. No doubt she would sin again
and befoul herself, for the melting moods of a great city are transient;
yet for the moment she showed very meek and mild. The atmosphere was
clear, with the exquisite clarity which follows abundant and welcome rain
after a spell of heat and drought. The trees, somewhat sparse in foliage,
were distinct with infinite gradations of blonde, golden, and umber tints,
as of burnished metal, against their black branches and stems. The endless
vista of grey and red buildings, outlined finely yet without harshness,
towered up into a thin, sad, blue sky overspread with long-drawn shoals
and islands, low-shored and sinuous, of pale luminous cloud. Upon the
grey pavements the bright-coloured dress of a woman--mauve, green, or
pink--took on a peculiar value here and there, amid the generality of
darkly clad pedestrians. And in the traffic, too, the white tilt of a van
or rather barbaric reds and yellows of the omnibuses, stood away from the
sombre hues of the mass of vehicles. The air, as Iglesias met it--he
occupying the seat on the right immediately behind that of the driver--was
soft, yet with a perceptible freshness of moisture in it; a cool, wistful
wind seeming to hail from very far, the wings of it laden less with
hopeful promise than with rare unspoken farewells, gentle yet penetrating
regrets; so that Dominic, even while welcoming the refreshment of it, was
moved in spirit with impressions of impending finality as though it spoke
to him of things finished, laid aside, not wholly without sorrow
relinquished and--so far as outward seeming went--forgot.
Involuntarily his eyes filled with tears. Then he reproached himself. Of
what had he to complain? The will must indeed be weak, the spiritual
vision reprehensively clouded, if these vague voices of nature could so
disturb the serenity of the soul. Thus he reasoned with himself, almost
sternly. But, just then, the flaming rose-scarlet bill on the knife-board
of a passing omnibus attracted his attention, along with the announcement,
in big letters, which it set forth. To-night the Twentieth Century Theatre
opened its winter season with a new piece by that admirable but all too
indolent and intermittent dramatist, Antony Hammond; and in it Poppy St.
John played the leading lady's part.
Opposite St. Mary Abbott's church Mr. Iglesias lighted down from the
'bustop. His eyes were still dazzled by those flaming bills.--Lionel
Gordon was advertising handsomely. The knife-board of every second omnibus
displayed them, now he came to look.--His thought turned in quickened
interest towards the Lady of the Windswept Dust and all that the said
advertisements stood for in her case. He had seen her a few days ago,
after rehearsal, and she had warned him off being present tonight.
"It's all going like hot cakes, dear man," she had said gaily, "still, as
you love me, don't come. I should be more nervous of you than ninety dozen
critics. I shall want you badly, all the same, don't doubt that; and I
shall play to you, all the while, though you're not there. But--don't you
understand?--if I actually saw you it might come between me and my part. I
shouldn't be sure who I really was, and that would make me as jumpy as a
sick cat. You shall know--I'll wire to you directly the show's over; but
I'd best have my first round quite alone with the public. And then a first
night is always a bit jungly--not quite fair on the play or the company,
or the audience either for that matter. A play's the same as a ship, if
there's any real art in it. It needs time to find itself. So just wait,
like a lamb, till we've all shaken into place, and I'm quite at home in
And in truth Dominic Iglesias had plenty to occupy his time and attention
at this particular juncture, irrespective of Poppy's _debut_ at the
Twentieth Century Theatre. For tomorrow would close his connection with
Cedar Lodge, as to-day had closed his connection with Messrs. Barking
Brothers & Barking. The mind in hours of fatigue, when vitality is low and
the power of concentration consequently deficient, has a tendency to work
in layers, so to speak, one strain of thought overlying another. Hence it
was that Iglesias' contemplation of those gaudy advertisements, and of
their bearing upon Poppy's fortunes, failed to oust the premonitions of
finality which had come to and somewhat perturbed him as he looked upon
the pensive tearwashed face of London-penitent, cleansed by the breath of
the wistful far-hailing autumn wind. Involuntarily, and notwithstanding
his repudiation of them, he continued to question those premonitions and
the clinging melancholy of them, asking whether they bore relation
merely to the two not wholly unwelcome partings above indicated; or
whether the foreboding induced by them did not find its source in some
sentiment, some intuition of approaching change, far more intimate and
profound than cessation of employment or alteration of dwelling-place.
Then, as he walked on up Church Street another layer of thought presented
itself. For he could not but call to mind how many hundred times he had
trodden that pavement before close against the close-packed traffic, the
high barrack-wall on the right hand, the row of modest shop-fronts on
the left, on his way home to the little house in Holland Street. Once more
that house was home to him. He would cross its familiar threshold to-day
as master. Yet how differently to of old! How steep the hill was! How
languid and spent he became in ascending it--slowly, deliberately, instead
of with light-footed energy and indifference! And this made him ask
himself, what if these premonitions of finality, of impending farewells,
of compulsory relinquishment, had indeed a very special and definite
significance, being sent to him as heralds of the approach of a common
yet--to each individual being--unique and altogether tremendous change?
What if that haunting curiosity of the unknown--concerning which he had
spoken with Poppy St. John amid the white magic of the moonlight during
the enchanted hour of his and her friendship--was to be satisfied very
Iglesias drew himself up to his full height, fatigue and bodily weakness
alike forgotten, and stood for a little space at the turn into Holland
Street, hat in hand, facing the delicately chill wind and looking away
into the fine perspective of sky overspread by shoals and islands of pale
luminous cloud. Calmly--yet with the sharp amazement inevitable when
things taken for granted, tacitly and nominally accepted throughout a
lifetime, suddenly advance into the immediate foreground, becoming actual,
tangible, imperative--he asked himself, was death so very near, then? At
the church of the Carmelite Priory just above--the high slated roofs and
slender iron crockets of which overtopped the parapets of the intervening
houses--a bell tolled as the officiating priest, in giving the
Benediction, elevated the sacred Host. And that note, at once austere and
plaintive, striking across the hoarse murmur and trample of the streets,
was very grateful to Dominic Iglesias. For it assured him of this, at
least, that when for him the supreme hour did indeed strike and he was
called upon to go forth alone--as every soul must go--to meet the
impenetrable mystery which veils the close of the earthly chapter, he
would not go forth unbefriended, but absolved, anointed, fortified, made
ready--in so far as readiness for so stupendous an ordeal is possible--by
the rites of Holy Church.
"_Fiat misericordia tua Domine super nos: quemad-modum speravimus te. In
te Domine speravi: non confundar in aeternum,_" he quoted half aloud.
And then could not forbear to smile, gravely and somewhat sadly,
registering the deep pathos of the fact that the majestic hymn of praise
and thanksgiving, dedicated by the use of Christendom throughout centuries
to the celebration of highest triumph, still ends brokenly with a
childlike sob of shrinking, of entreaty, and very human pain.
Meditating upon which, and upon much implied by it, not only of sorrow but
of consolation for whoso is not afraid to understand, Iglesias moved
onward. But so closely do things absurd and trivial jostle things august
and of profound significance in daily happenings--he was speedily aroused
from meditation and his attention claimed by example of quite another
order of pathos to that suggested by the concluding verses of the _Te
Deum_. Some little way ahead a brown-painted furniture van was backed
against the curb. From the cave-like interior of it coatless white-aproned
men bore a miscellaneous collection of goods--among others a battered
dapple-grey rocking-horse with flowing mane and tail--across the yard-wide
strip of garden, and in at the front door of a small old-fashioned house.
Bass mats were strewn upon the pavement. Sheets of packing paper
pirouetted down the roadway before the wind. While, standing in the midst
of the litter, watching the process of unloading with perplexed and even
agitated interest, was a whimsical figure--large of girth, short of limb,
convex where the accredited lines of beauty demand, if not concavity, at
least a refined flatness of surface.
The Latin, unlike the Anglo-Saxon, does not consider it necessary as
soon as adolescence is past to extirpate his heart; or, failing successful
performance of that heroic operation, strictly to limit the activities
of it to his amours, legitimate or otherwise. Hence Dominic Iglesias
felt no shame that the sight of his old plaything, or of his old
school-fellow--now unhappily estranged from and suspicious of him--should
provoke in him a great tenderness. Upon the battered rocking-horse his
heart rode away to the dear sheltered happiness of childhood, while
towards his former school-fellow it went forth in unmixed kindliness. For
it appeared to him that for one who had so lately held converse with
approaching death, it would be a very scandal of light-minded pettiness to
nourish resentment against any fellow creature. In near prospect of the
eternal judgment, private and temporal judgment can surely afford to
declare a universal amnesty in respect of personal slights and injuries.
Therefore, after but a moment's hesitation, he went on, laid his hand upon
George Lovegrove's shoulder, and called him affectionately by name.
"Dominic!" the latter cried, and stood staring. "Well to be sure--you did
surprise me! To think of meeting you just by accident to-day, like this!"
He grew furiously red, gladness and embarrassment struggling within him.
Conscientiously he strove to be faithful to the menagerie of ignorances
and prejudices which he misnamed his convictions. For here was the
representative of the Accursed Thing--persecutor, enemy of truth, of
patriotism, of marriage, worshipper of senseless idols; but, alas! how he
loved that representative! How he honoured his intelligence, admired his
person, coveted his companionship! Beholding Iglesias once again, George
Lovegrove rejoiced as at the finding of lost treasure. Hence, perplexed,
perspiring, lamentably squinting, yet with the innocent half-shy ecstasy
of a girl looking upon her recovered lover, he gazed up into Mr. Iglesias'
"I give you my word I was never more taken aback in my life," he
protested. "As it happened I was just thinking about old times, observing
that some family is moving into your former house. But I had no notion of
meeting you. Positively I am unable to grasp the fact. I have not a word
to say to you, because I require to say so much. I know there is a great
deal which needs explanation on my part. And then your calling me by my
name, too! I declare it went right through me, as a voice from the grave
"Put aside explanations," Iglesias replied indulgently. "You are not going
to quarrel with me any more--let that suffice."
"No, I cannot quarrel with you any more. I am sure I don't know whether it
is unprincipled or not, but I cannot do it."
Regardless of observation, he pulled out a handkerchief and mopped his
"If it is unprincipled I must just let it go." he said, quite recklessly.
"I cannot help myself. I give you my word, Dominic, I have held out as
long as I could."
This appeal to Iglesias, as against himself, appeared to him abundantly
unaffected and ingenuous.
"I cannot but believe you will find the consequences of renewed
intercourse with me less damaging than you suppose," he answered, smiling.
"That is what the wife says," the other man stated. "She has veered round
completely in her opinion, has the wife. I do not understand why, except
that Mrs. Porcher and Miss Hart and she seem to have fallen out. The
workings of females' minds are very difficult to follow, even after years
of marriage, you know, Dominic. Opposition to one of their own sex will
make them warmly embrace opinions you supposed were just those which they
most strongly condemned. She has taken a very high tone, for some time
past, about the Cedar Lodge ladies, has the wife. And when I came in, the
evening of her last at-home day, I found her sadly upset at having heard
from one of them that you were about to leave. She implied that I was to
blame; whereas I can truthfully say my conduct throughout has been largely
influenced by the fear of hurting her feelings." The speaker looked
helplessly at Mr. Iglesias. "Of course we do not expect the same reticence
in speech from females we require of ourselves. Still, such unfounded
accusations are rather galling."
"I cannot be otherwise than very grateful to Mrs. Lovegrove for espousing
my cause, you see," Iglesias replied. This confused and gentle being,
struggling with the complexities of friendship, religious prejudice, and
feminine methods and amenities, was wholly moving. "Circumstances have
arisen which have made me decide to give up my rooms at Cedar Lodge.
To-night is the last upon which I shall occupy them. But I do not wish
Mrs. Lovegrove to be under any misapprehension regarding my hostess and
her companion. I have nothing to complain of. During my long residence
they have treated me with courtesy and consideration. I wish them nothing
but good. Still the time has come, I feel, for leaving Cedar Lodge."
Here the worthy George's imagination indulged in wild flights. Visions of
a hideous and rugged cell--of the sort known exclusively to serial
melodrama--and of a beautiful woman, in voluminous rose-red skirts and a
costly overcoat, presented themselves to him in amazing juxtaposition.
"Of course, I have forfeited all right to question you as to your plans,
Dominic," he said hurriedly and humbly. "I quite realise that. I believed
I was acting on principle in keeping away from you, all the more because
it pained me terribly to do so. I believed I was being consistent. Now I
begin to fear I was only obstinate and cowardly. Your kindness of manner
has completely unmanned me. I see how superior you are in liberality to
myself. And so it cuts me to the quick, more than ever, to part from you."
"Why should we part?" Iglesias asked.
"But you are going away. The wife told me she heard you were
leaving London altogether; whether to--I hardly like to mention the
supposition--to join some brotherhood or--or, to be married, she did not
Mr. Iglesias shook his head, smiling sweetly and bravely.
"Oh! no, no, my dear fellow," he answered. "Rumour must have been rather
unpardonably busy with my name. I fear I am about equally ill-fitted for
monastic and for married life. The day of splendid ventures, whether of
religion or of love, is over for me; and I shall die, as I have lived, a
bachelor and a layman. Nor shall I cease to be your neighbour, for I am
only returning here"--he pointed to the open door, in at which coatless
white-aproned men carried that miscellaneous collection of furniture--"to
the little old Holland Street house. Lately I have had a great craving
upon me to be at home again--alone, save for one or two precious
friendships; with leisure to read and to think; and, in as far as my poor
mental powers permit, to become a humble student of the awe-inspiring
philosophy--reconciling things natural and supernatural--of which the
Catholic Church is the exponent, her creeds its textbook, her ceremonies
and ritual the divinely appointed symbols of its secret truths." Iglesias'
expression was exalted, his speech penetrated by enthusiasm. "It would be
profitable and happy," he said, "before the final auditing of accounts, to
be a little better versed in this wonderful and living wisdom."
And George Lovegrove stood watching him, bewildered, agitated, full of
doubt and inquiry.
"Ah! it is all beyond me, quite beyond me," he exclaimed presently.
"Mistaken or not, I see you are in touch with thoughts altogether outside
my experience and comprehension. I supposed Romanism could only be held by
uneducated and superstitious persons. I see I was wrong. I ask your
pardon, Dominic. I see I quite undervalued it." Then his manner changed,
quick perception and consequent distress seizing him. "Ah! but you are
ill. That is the meaning of it all. You are ill. Now I come to observe
you, I see how thin and drawn your face is. How shall I ever forgive
myself for not finding that out sooner! I have differed from you and
blamed you. I have sulked, and thought bitterly of you, and avoided you.
I have even been envious, hearing how successfully you carried through
affairs this anxious time at the bank. I have been a contemptibly
mean-spirited individual. No, I can never forgive myself. I have found you
again, only to lose you. You are in bad health. You have been suffering,
and I never thought to inquire about that. I never knew it."
But Dominic Iglesias made effort to comfort him, speaking not
uncheerfully, determining even to fight the fatigue and weakness which, as
he could not but own, daily increased on him, if only for the sake of this
faithful and simple adherent.
"Perhaps the sands are running rather low," he said; "but that does not
greatly matter. The conditions are in process of alteration. Now that I am
free of my City work, the strain is practically over. With care and quiet,
the sands that remain in the glass may run very slowly. I have a peaceful
time in prospect, here in my old home. When I left here, eight years ago,
I could not make up my mind to part with any of our family belongings, so
I warehoused all the contents of the house, save those which I took to
furnish my rooms at Cedar Lodge. Now these half-forgotten possessions see
the light once more. This in itself should constitute a staying of the
running sands, a putting back of the hands of the clock. Then I have two
good servants to care for me. I am fortunate in that. And your friendship
is restored to me. I should be ungrateful if I did not live on for a while
to enjoy all this kindly circumstance. So do not grieve. There are many
after-dinner pipes to be smoked, many talks to be talked yet.--Come into
the house, and see it as you used to know it when we both were young.
Surely it is a good omen that you, my earliest friend, should be my first
visitor when I come home?"
De Courcy Smyth was not drunk, but he had been drinking--persistently
nipping, as his custom was in times of mental excitement, in the
fallacious hope of keeping up courage and steadying irritable nerves. The
series of moods usually resultant on such recourse to spirituous liquors,
followed one another with clock-work regularity. He was alternately
hysterically elated, preternaturally moral, offensively quarrelsome,
maudlin to the point of tears. The first _matinee_ of his
long-promised play had prospered but very ill, notwithstanding large
advertisement and free list. The second had prospered even worse.
Mercifully disposed persons, slipping out between the acts, had been
careful not to return. Less amiably disposed ones had remained to titter
or hiss. Failure had been written in capital letters across the whole
performance--and deservedly, in the estimation of every one save the
unhappy author himself. The play had perished in the very act of birth.
But of this tragic termination to so many extravagant hopes Dominic
Iglesias was still ignorant, as he entered the dismantled sitting-room at
Cedar Lodge that same night a little after half-past ten o'clock. He had
dined in the old house in Holland Street; served by Frederick, the
German-Swiss valet, who, some weeks previously, hearing of his intended
departure, had announced his intention of "bettering himself," had given
Mrs. Porcher warning, and, in moving terms and three languages, implored
employment of Iglesias, declaring that the other gentlemen resident at
Cedar Lodge were "no class," their clothes utterly unworthy of his powers
of brushing and folding.
Iglesias stayed on in Holland Street until late, the charm and gentleness
of old associations, the sight of familiar objects, the gladness of
restored friendship with George Lovegrove working upon him to
thankfulness. He was tranquil in spirit, serene with the calm twilight
serenity of the strong who have learned the secret of detachment, and,
who, while welcoming all glad and gracious occurrences, have schooled
themselves to resignation, and, in the affairs of this world, do neither
greatly fear nor greatly hope. And it was in this spirit he had made his
way back to Cedar Lodge and entered the square panelled sitting-room. But,
the door closed, he paused, aware of some sinister influence, some unknown
yet repulsive presence. The room was nearly dark, the gas being lowered to
a pin-point on either side the mantelpiece. Dominic moved across to turn
it up, and in so doing stumbled over an unexpected obstacle. De Courcy
Smith, who had been dozing uneasily in the one remaining armchair, sat
upright with an oath.
"What are you at, you swine!" he shouted. Then as the light shone forth he
made an effort to recover himself.
"It's hardly necessary to announce your advent by kicking me, Mr.
Iglesias," he said thickly, and without attempting to rise from his seat.
"Not but that there is an appropriateness in that graceful form of
introduction. Only a kick from the benevolent patron, who professed
himself so charitably disposed towards me, was required to make up the sum
of outrage which has been my portion to-day.--Have you seen the theatrical
items in the evening papers?" With trembling hands he spread out a
newspaper upon his knees. "See the way that dirty reptile, Percy Gerrard,
who succeeded me upon _The Daily Bulletin_, has chopped me and my
play to mincemeat, cut bits of live flesh out of me and fried them in
filth, and washed down my wounds with the vitriol of hypocritical
compassion and good advice? That is the style of recognition a really
first-class work of art, fit to rank with the classics, with Wycherley,
and Congreve, and Sheridan, or Lytton--for there are qualities of all
these very dissimilar masters in my writing--gets from the present-day
press. As I have told you all along, the critics and playwrights hate
me because they fear me. I have never spared them. I have exposed them and
their ignorance, and want of scholarship, in print. They know I spoke the
truth. Their hatred is witness to my veracity. They have been nursing
their venom for years. Now with one consent they pour it forth. It is a
vile plot and conspiracy. They were sworn to swamp me, so they formed a
ring. They did not care what they spent so long as they succeeded in
crushing me. Every one has been bought, miserably, scandalously bought.
This is the only conceivable explanation of the reception my play has met
with. They got at the members of my company. My actors played better at
first, better at rehearsal. Yesterday and to-day they have played like a
row of wooden ninepins, of straw-stuffed scarecrows, of rot-stricken
idiots! They missed their cues, and forgot their lines, or pretended to do
so; and then had the infernal impertinence to giggle and gag, blast them!
I heard them. I could have screamed. I tried to stop them; and the
stage-manager swore at me in the wings, and the scene-shifters laughed. It
was a hideous nightmare. The audience laughed--the sound of it is in my
ears now, and it tortures me, for it was not natural laughter. It was not
spontaneous--how could it be so? It was simply part of this iniquitous
conspiracy to ruin me. It was hired mockery, bought and paid for, the
mockery of subsidised traitors, liars, imbeciles, the inhuman mockery of
He crushed the newspaper together with both hands, flung it across the
room, and broke into hysterical weeping.
"For my play is a masterpiece," he wailed. "It is a work of genius. No
other man living could have written it. Yet it is damned by a brainless
public and vindictive press, while I know and they know--they must know,
the fact is self-evident--that it is great, nothing less than great."
During this harangue Dominic Iglesias stood immovable, facing the speaker,
but looking down, not at him, rigid in attitude, silent. Any attempt to
stem the torrent of the wretched man's speech would have been futile.
Dominic judged it kindest just to wait, letting passion tear him till, by
force of its own violence, it had worn itself out. Then, but not till
them, it might be helpful to intervene. Still the exhibition was a very
painful one, putting a heavy strain upon the spectator. For be a fellow
creature never so displeasing in nature and in habit, never so cankered by
vanity and self-love, it cannot be otherwise than hideous to see him upon
the rack. And that de Courcy Smyth was very actually upon the rack--a rack
well deserved, may be, and of his own constructing, but which wrenched his
every joint to the agony of dislocation nevertheless--there could be no
manner of doubt. Coming as conclusion to the long day, to the peaceful
evening--the thought of the Lady of the Windswept Dust, moreover, and her
fortunes so eminently and presently just now in the balance, in his
mind--the whole situation was horrible to Dominic Iglesias.
But Smyth's mood changed, his tears ceasing as incontinently as they had
begun. He ceased to slouch and writhe, passed his hands across his
blood-shot eyes, drew himself up in his chair, began to snarl, even to
"I forget myself, and forget you, too, Mr. Iglesias--which is annoying,"
he said; "for you are about the last person from whom I could expect, or
should desire to receive, sympathy. Persons of my world, scholars and
idealists, and persons of your world, money-grubbing materialists, can, in
the nature of things, have very little in common. There is a great gulf
fixed between them. I beg your pardon for having so far forgotten myself
as to ignore that fact, and talked on subjects incomprehensible to you.
What follows, however, will be more in your line, I imagine, and it is
this which has made me come here to-night. You realise that your
investment has turned out an unfortunate one? You have lost, irretrievably
lost, your money."
"I was not wholly unprepared for that," Dominic answered. His temper was
beginning to rise. Sodden with drink, maddened by failure, hardly
accountable for his words or actions, still the man's tone was rather too
offensive for endurance. "I had made full provision for such a
contingency. I accept the loss. Pray do not let it trouble you."
"Oh! you accept it, do you? You were prepared for it?" Smyth broke in.
"You can afford to throw way a cool three hundred pounds--the expenses
will amount to that at least in the bulk. How very agreeable for you!
Your late operations in the City must have been surprisingly profitable.
I was not aware, until now, that we had the honour of numbering a
millionaire among us at Cedar Lodge. But let me tell you this extremely
superior tone does not please me, Mr. Iglesias. It smells of insult. I
warn you, you had better be a little careful. Even a miserable persecuted
pauper like myself can make it unpleasant for those who insult him. I must
request you to remember that I am a gentleman by birth, and that I have
the feelings of my class where my personal honour is concerned. Do you
suppose I do not know perfectly well that the benevolent attitude you have
seen fit to assume towards me has been a blind, from first to last; and
that every penny you have advanced me until now, as well as the three
hundred pounds, the loss of which you so amiably beg me not to let trouble
me, is hush-money? Yes, hush-money, I repeat, the price of my silence
regarding your intrigue with my wife--my wife who calls herself--"
"We will introduce no woman's name into this conversation, if you please,"
Iglesias interrupted sternly.
The limit of things pardonable had been passed. His face was white and
keen as a sword. The weight of years and of failing health had vanished,
burned up by fierce disgust and anger, as is mist by the sun-heat. He was
young, arrogant in bearing, careless of consequence or of danger as some
fifteenth-century finely bred fighting man face to face with his enemy and
traducer, who, given honourable opportunity, he would kill or be killed
by, without faintest scruple or remorse. And of this temper of mind his
aspect was so eloquent that de Courcy Smyth, muddled with liquor though he
was, seeing him, was seized with panic. He scrambled to his feet, flung
himself behind the chair, clinging to the back of it for support.
"Don't look at me like that, you Spanish devil!" he whimpered. "You
paralyse me. You hypnotise me. My brain is splitting. You're drawing the
life out of me. I shall go mad. If you come a step nearer I'll make a
scandal. I'll call for help. Ah! God in heaven, who's that?"
Only the housemaid entering, salver in hand, and leaving the door wide
open behind her. Upon the landing with out, Farge and Worthington, in
comic attitudes, stood at attention.
"A telegram for you, sir. Is the boy to wait?" she inquired, in a stifled
voice. "She could hardly keep a straight face," as she reported downstairs
subsequently, "that ridiculous Farge was so full of his jokes."
Iglesias tore open the yellow envelope and held the telegraph-form to the
"Glorious luck. Happy as a queen. Come to supper after performance
to-morrow. Love. Poppy,"
His face softened.
"No answer," he said, and turned purposing to speak some word of mercy to
wretched de Courcy Smyth. But the latter had slunk out at the open door,
while Mr. Farge, in an ungovernable paroxysm of humour--levelled at the
departing housemaid--effectually covered his retreat by cake-walking, with
very high knee action, the length of the landing, playing appropriate
dance-music, the while, upon an imaginary banjo in the shape of
Worthington's new crook-handled walking stick.
For some time Dominic Iglesias heard shuffling, nerveless footsteps moving
to and fro in the room overhead. Then Smyth threw himself heavily upon his
bed. The wire-wove mattress creaked, and creaked again twice. Unbroken
silence followed, and Iglesias breathed more easily, hoping the miserable
being slept. For him, Iglesias, there was no sleep. His body was too
tired. His mind too vividly and painfully awake. He lay down, it is true,
since he did not care to remain in the dismantled sitting-room or occupy
the chair in which de Courcy Smyth had sat. But, throughout the night, he
stared at the darkness and heard the hours strike. At sunset the wind
had dropped dead. In the small hours it began to rise, and before dawn to
freshen, veering to another quarter. Softly at first, and then with richer
diapason, the cedar tree greeted its mysterious comrade, singing of
far-distant times and places, and of the permanence of nature as against
the fitful evanescent life of man. That husky singing soothed Dominic
Iglesias, and calmed him, assuring him that in the hands of the Almighty
are all things, small and great, past, present, and to come. There is
neither haste, nor omission, nor accident, nor oversight in the divine
plan; but that plan is large beyond the possibility of human intellect to
grasp or comprehend, therefore humble faith is also highest wisdom.
As the dawn quickened into day Dominic drew aside the curtain and looked
out. Behind the dark branches, where they cleared the housetops and met
the open sky, thrown wide upward to the zenith, was the rose-scarlet of
sunrise, holding, as it seemed to him, at once the splendour of battle
and the peace of crowned achievement and--was it but a pretty conceit or a
truth of happiest import?--the colour of certain flaring omnibus
knifeboard bills and the colour of a certain woman's name.
The narrow lane, running back at right angles to the great thoroughfare,
was filled with blurred yellowish light and covered in with gloom,
low-hanging and impenetrable. The high, blank buildings on either side of
it looked like the perpendicular walls of a tunnel, the black roof they
apparently supported being as solid and substantial as themselves. The
effect thereby produced was suspect and prison-like, as of a space walled
in and closed from open air and day. Outside the stage entrance of the
Twentieth Century Theatre a small crowd had collected and formed up in two
parallel lines across the pavement to the curb, against which a smart
single brougham and some half a dozen four-wheelers and hansoms were
drawn up. The crowd, which gathered and broke only to gather again, was
composed for the main part of persons of the better artisan class,
respectable, soberly habited, evidently awaiting the advent of relations
employed within the theatre. There was also a sprinkling of showy young
women, attended by undersized youths flashily dressed. On the fringes of
it night-birds, male and female, of evil aspect, loitered, watchful of
possible prey; while two or three gentlemen, correct, highly-civilised,
stood smoking, each with the air of studied indifference which defies
attempted recognition on the part of friend or foe.
And among these last Dominic Iglesias must be counted; though, in his
case, indifference was not assumed but real. His surroundings were novel,
it is true, and produced on him clear impressions both pictorial and
moral; but those impressions were of his surroundings in and for
themselves, rather than in any doubtfulness of their relation to himself.
For his mind was occupied with problems painful in character and difficult
of solution; and to the said problems, heightening the emotional strain of
them, his surroundings--the sense of feverish life, of all-encompassing
restless humanity; the figures anxious, degraded, of questionable purpose
or merely frivolous, which started into momentary distinctness; the scraps
of conversation, caught in passing, instinct with suggestion, squalid or
passionate; along with the ceaseless tramp of footsteps, and tumult of the
great thoroughfare just now packed with the turn-out of neighbouring
places of entertainment--supplied a background penetratingly appropriate.
For a good half-hour Mr. Iglesias stood there. At intervals the doors of
the stage entrance swung open, causing a movement of interest and comment
among the crowd. One by one hansoms and four-wheelers, obtaining fares,
rattled away over the stones. Yet the Lady of the Windswept Dust tarried.
It grew late, and Iglesias greatly desired her coming, greatly desired to
speak with her, and speaking to find approximate solution, at least, of
some of the problems which lay so heavy upon his mind. Meanwhile, the
crowd melted and vanished, leaving him alone in the blurred yellowish
light beneath the low-hanging roof of impenetrable gloom, save for the
haunting presence of some few of those terrible human birds of prey.
He was about to turn away also, not particularly relishing the remaining
company, when, with a rush, Poppy was beside him, in stately garments of
black velvet and glimmering tissue of silver; her head and shoulders
draped with something of daring and magnificence, in her blue-purple
jewelled dragon-embroidered scarf. She caught Iglesias' right hand in both
of hers and held it a moment against her breast. And during that brief
interval he registered the fact that, notwithstanding her beauty, the
force of her personality and richness of her dress, she did not look out
of place in this somewhat cut-throat alley, with the questionable sights
and sounds of midnight London all about her; but vivid, exultant, true
daughter of great cities, fearless manipulator of the very varied
opportunities they offer, past-master, for joy and sorrow, in the curious
arts they teach.
"Get into the brougham, dear man," she said, "and let me talk. There, put
up the window on the traffic side. I have been in the liveliest worry
about you. Had the house turned out of windows to find you--and gave
things in general the deuce of a time.--The brougham's comfortable, isn't
it? Fallowfeild's jobbed it for the winter for me.--All the same I played
like an angel, out of pure desperation, thinking you might be ill. I made
the audience cry big, big tears, bless 'em. And it wasn't the part--not
a bit of it. It was you, just simply you.--And then I dawdled talking to
Antony Hammond about some lines in the second act I want altered, so as to
let myself down easy before digesting the disappointment of driving back
to Bletchworth Mansions alone. I wanted so very badly to have you see me.
Beloved and most faithless of beings, why the mischief didn't you come?"
And Iglesias sitting beside her watching her joyous face, crowned by her
dark hair, set in the gleaming folds of her jewelled scarf, as passing
lights revealed it clearly, or shifting left it in soft shadow, divined
rather than actually seen, became sadly conscious that the problems which
oppressed him were not only hard of solution but hard of statement
likewise. It seemed heartless to propound them in this, her hour of
success. Yet, unless he was deeply mistaken, the statement of them must
tell for emancipation and relief in the end.
"The play has gone well, and you are happy?" he asked her.
"Gorgeously--I grant you I was a bit nervous as to whether during these
years of--well--love in idleness, I had not lost touch with my art. But I
haven't. I have only matured in mind and in method. I am not conceited,
dear man, truly I am not; but I am neither too lazy nor too modest to use
my brains. What I know I am not afraid to apply. I've very little theory,
but a precious deal of practice--and that's the way to get on. Don't talk
about your ideas--just use them for all you're worth.--But this is beside
the mark. You're trying to head me off. Why didn't you come?"
"I would gladly have come," Iglesias answered. "My disappointment has been
quite as great as yours."
"Bless your heart!" Poppy murmured under her breath.
"But it was impossible for me to come. I was detained until it was too
late." He paused, uncertain how best to say that which had to be said.
"Oh! fiddle!" Poppy cried, with a lift of her head. "I stand first. You
ought not to have let yourself be detained. After all, it's not every day
someone you know blazes from a farthing dip into a star of the first
magnitude. You might very well have crowded other things aside. I feel a
trifle hurt, dear man, really I do."
"Believe me, no ordinary matter would have prevented my coming," Iglesias
answered. To his relief the carriage just then turned into the comparative
peace of Langham Place. It became possible to speak softly. "There was
a death in the house last night," he went on, "that of a person with whom
I have been rather closely associated. He died under circumstances
demanding investigations of a distressing character. No one save myself
was qualified, or perhaps willing, to assume the responsibility of calling
in the authorities."
Iglesias glanced at his companion, conscious that while he spoke her
attitude and humour had altered considerably. She was motionless. He saw
her profile, dark against the square light of window-glass. Her mouth was
slightly open, as with intensity of attention.
"Well--well--what then?" she said.
"The man had just suffered a heavy reverse. He had staked all his hopes,
all his future, upon a single venture. It proved a failure. He could not
accept the fact, and believed himself the victim of gross injustice and of
"Do you believe it, too?"
"No," Iglesias answered. "I have an immense pity for him, as who would
not. Still, I am compelled to believe that failure came from within,
rather than from without. He overrated his own powers."
Poppy held up her hand imperiously. "Wait half a minute," she said, in an
oddly harsh voice. Leaning forward she put down the front glass and called
to the coachman:--"Don't go to Bletchworth Mansions. Drive on. Never mind
where, so long as you keep to empty streets. Drive on and on--do you
hear?--till I tell you to stop."
She put the window up again and settled herself back in her place,
dragging the scarf from off her head and baring her throat. She looked
full at Mr. Iglesias, her face showing ghostly white against the dark
upholstery of the carriage. Her eyes were wide with question and with
fear, which was also, in some strange way, hope.
"Now you can speak, dear friend," she said quite steadily. "I shall be
glad to hear the whole of it, though it is an ugly story. The man was
miserable, and he is dead, and the circumstances of his death point
In reply Iglesias told her how that morning, the servants failing to get
any response to their knocking, the upper part of the house being,
moreover, pervaded by a sickening smell of gas, help had been called in;
and, de Courcy Smyth's door being forced open, he had been found lying,
fully clothed, stark and cold upon his bed, an empty phial of morphia and
an empty glass on the table beside him, both gas-jets turned full on
though not alight.
At the top of Portland Place the coachman took his way northwestward,
first skirting the outer ring of Regent's Park and then making the
gradually ascending slope of the Finchley Road. The detached houses on
either side, standing back in their walled gardens, were mostly blind.
Only here and there, behind drawn curtains, a window glowed, telling of
intimate drama gallant or mournful within. The wide grey pavements were
deserted; the place arrestingly quiet, save for the occasional heavy tread
of a passing policeman on beat, and the rhythmical trot of the horse. And
the Lady of the Windswept Dust was quiet likewise, looking straight before
her, sitting stiffly upright, her hands clasped in her lap, the shifting
lights and shadows playing queerly over her face and her bare neck,
causing her to appear unsubstantial and indefinite as a figure in a dream.
Yet a strange energy possessed her and emanated from her, so that the
atmosphere about her was electric, oppressive to Iglesias as with a
brooding of storm. Her very quietness was agitating, weighed with meaning
which challenged his imagination and even his powers of reticence and
self-control. Opposite Swiss Cottage Station, where the main road forks,
a string of market waggons--slouching, drowsy car-men, backed by a pale
green wall of glistening cabbages, nodding above their slow-moving
teams--passed, with a jingle of brass-mounted harness and grind of wheels.
This roused Poppy, and the storm broke.
"Dominic," she said breathlessly, "do you at all know that you've just
told me means to me?"
"I have never known positively until now; but it was impossible that I
should not have entertained suspicions."
"Did he--you know who I mean--ever speak of me?"
"I think," Iglesias said, "he came very near doing so, more than once. But
I put a stop to the conversation."
"You frightened him," Poppy rejoined. "I know one could do that. It was a
last resource, a hateful one. Is there anything so difficult to forgive as
being driven to be cruel? One was bound to be cruel in self-defence, or
one would have been stifled, utterly degraded by self-contempt, bled to
death not only in respect of money but of self-esteem."
She threw up her hands with a gesture at once fierce and despairing.
"Oh! the weak, the weak," she cried, "of how many crimes they are the
authors! Crimes more particularly abominable when the weak one is the man,
and woman--poor brute--is strong."
She settled herself sideways in the corner of the carriage, turning her
face once more full upon her companion.
"Look here," she said, "I don't want to whitewash myself. What I've done
I've done. I don't pretend it's pretty or innocent, or that I haven't
jolly well got to pay the price of it--though I think a good deal has been
paid by now. But it seems to me my real crime was in marrying him, rather
than in leaving him. It was a crime against love--love, which alone, if
you've any real sense of the inherent decencies of things, makes marriage
otherwise than an outrage upon a woman's pride and her virtue. But, then,
one doesn't know all that when one's barely out of one's teens. And, you
see, like a fool I took the first comer out of bravado, just that people
mightn't see how awfully hard hit I was by his people interfering and
preventing my marrying the poor, dear boy who gave me this"--Poppy spread
out the end of her dragon scarf--"I've told you about him.--Stage people
are absurdly simple in some ways, you know. They live in such a world of
pretences and fictions that they lose their sense of fact, or rather they
never develop it. They're awfully easily taken in. Words go a tremendous
long way with them. And de Courcy could talk. He was appallingly fluent,
specially on the subject of himself. He made be believe he was rather
wonderful, and I wanted to believe he was wonderful. I wanted to believe
he was all the geniuses in creation rolled into one. All the more I wanted
to believe it because I wasn't one scrap in love with him."
Poppy beat with one hand almost roughly on Mr. Iglesias' arm.
"Do you see, do you see, do you see?" she repeated. "Do you understand?
I want you so badly to understand."
And he answered her gently and gravely: "Do not be afraid, dear friend. I
see with your eyes. I feel with your heart. As far as one human being can
enter into and share the experience of another, I do understand."
"But the nuisance is," she went on, the corners of her mouth taking a
wicked twist, "you know so very much more about a man after you've married
him. Other people are inclined to forget that sometimes. Consuming egoism
is hideous at close quarters. It comes out in a thousand ways, in mean
little tyrannies and absurd jealousies which would never have entered into
one's head.--I don't want to go into all that. It's better forgot.--Only
they piled up and up, till the shadow of them shut out the sunshine; and
I got so bored, so madly and intolerably bored. You see, I had tried to
believe in him at first. In self-defence I had done so, and stood by him,
and done my very best to put him through. But when I began to understand
that there was nothing to stand by or put through, that his talent was not
talent at all, but merely a vain man's longing to possess talent--well,
the situation became pretty bad. I tried to be civil. I tried to hold my
tongue, indeed I did. But to be bullied and grumbled at, and expected to
work, so as to give him leisure and means for the development of gifts
which didn't exist--it wasn't good enough."
Poppy put up her hands and pushed the masses of her hair from her
forehead. And all the while the shifting lights and shadows played over
her white face and bare neck, and the horse trotted on, past closed shops
and curtained windows, farther out of London and into the night.
"He didn't do anything which the world calls vicious," she continued
presently. A great dreariness had come into the tones of her voice. "He
was faithful to me, as the world counts faithfulness, simply because he
didn't care for women--except for philandering with sentimental sillies
who thought him an unappreciated eighth wonder of the world, and pawed
over and pitied him. La! La! The mere thought of it makes me sick! But he
was too much in love with himself to be capable of even an animal passion
for anybody else. And he made a great point of his virtue. I heard a lot
about it--oh! a lot!"
For a minute or two Poppy sat silent. Then she turned to Mr. Iglesias,
smiling, as those smile who refuse submission to some cruel pain.
"I wasn't born bad, dear man," she said, "and I held out longer than most
women in my profession would, where morals are easy and it's lightly come
and lightly go in respect of lovers and love. But one fine day I packed up
my traps and cleared out. He'd been whining for years, and some little
thing he said or did--I really forget exactly what--raised Cain in me, and
I thought I'd jolly well give him something to whine about. I knew
perfectly well he wouldn't divorce me. He wanted me too much, at the end
of a string, to torment, and to get money from when times were bad. Not
that I cared for a divorce. I consider it the clumsiest invention out for
setting wrongs right. I have too great a respect for marriage, which
ought, if it means anything, to mean motherhood and children, and a clean,
wholesome start in life for the second generation. When a woman breaks
away and crosses the lines, she only makes bad worse, in my opinion, by
the hypocritical respectability of a marriage while her husband is still
alive. Let's be honest sinners any way, if sin we must."
Again she paused, looking backward in thought, seeing and hearing things
which, for the honour of others, it was kindest not to repeat. The
carriage moved slowly, the horse slackening its pace in climbing the last
steep piece of hill which leads to the pond on Hampstead Heath.
"And now it's over," Poppy said, letting her hands drop in her lap. "Done
with. The poor wretched thing's dead--has killed himself. That is a
fitting conclusion. He was always his own worst enemy.--Well, as far as I
am concerned, let him rest in peace."
"Amen," Iglesias responded, "so let him rest. 'Shall not the judge of all
the world do right,' counting his merits as well as his demerits, making
all just excuses for his lapses and wrong-doings; knowing, as we can never
know, exactly how far he was and was not accountable for his own and for
others' sins. And now, dear friend, as you have said, this long misery is
over and done with. Whatever remains of practical business you can leave
safely to me. His memory shall be shielded as far as foresight and
sympathy can shield it, and your name need not appear."
The Lady of the Windswept Dust took his hand and held it.
"I don't know," she said brokenly, "why all this should all come upon
"For a very simple reason," he answered. "What did you tell me yourself?
You stand first. And that is true."
But it may be remarked in passing that there are limits to the passive
obedience of even the best-trained of men-servants. Those of Poppy's
coachman had been reached. At the top of the hill he drew up, vigorously
determined to drive no farther into the wilderness, without renewed and
very distinct information as to why and where he went, perceiving which
Dominic Iglesias opened the carriage door and stepped out.
"The night is fine and dry," he said. "Let us walk a little, and then let
us drive home. You have your work to-morrow--or, rather, to-day--and you
must have a reasonable amount of rest first. The stream of your life has
been arrested, diverted from its natural channel; but it still runs strong
and clear yet. You have genius, real, not imagined, so you must husband
your energies.--Come and walk. Let the air soothe and calm you; and then,
leaving all the past in Almighty God's safe keeping, go home and rest."
Here the high-road stretches along the ridge of the hill, a giant
causeway, the broken land of the open heath falling away sharply to left
and right. It was windless. The sky was covered, and the atmosphere,
though not foggy at this height, was thick as with smoke; so that the
road, with its long avenue of sparse-set lamps--dwindling in the extreme
distance to faintest sparks--was as a pale bridge thrown across the void
of black unsounded space. All, save the road itself, the lamps, and seats,
and broken fringe of grass edging the raised footpath of it, was formless
and vague, peopled by shapes, dark against darkness, such as the eye
itself fearfully produces in straining to penetrate unyielding obscurity.
The effect was one of intense isolation, of divorce from humanity and the
works and ways of it, so present and overpowering it might well seem that,
reaching the far end of that pale bridge, the wayfarer would part company
with the things of time altogether and pass into another state of being.
And this so worked upon Poppy that, some fifty yards along the causeway,
her black and silver skirts gathered ankle-high about her, she stopped,
drawing very close to Iglesias and laying her hand upon his arm.
"Listen to the silence," she said. "Look at the emptiness. I don't quite
like it, even with you. It's too suggestive of death, death with no sure
hope of life beyond it.--I am quite good now, quite sane and reasonable.
I have put aside all bitterness. I'll never say another hard word of him,
or, in as far as I can, think a hard thought."
Then turning, suddenly she gave a cry, perceiving that east and south
all London lay below them--formless, too, indefinite, enormous, a City of
the Plains, unseen in detail but indicated through the gloom as a vast
semi-circle of smouldering fire.
Poppy stretched out both arms, letting her splendid draperies trail in the
"Ah! how I love it, how I love it," she cried. "Let us go back, dear man.
For it belongs to me and I belong to it. In the name of my art I must try
conclusions with it. I must play to it, and conquer it, and enchant, and
possess it, since I am free at last--I am free."
Serena's manner, though gracious, was lofty, almost regal. She had,
indeed, lately looked upon crowned heads, and the glory of them seemed,
somehow, to have rubbed off on her.
"Yes," she said, "I came up for the Queen's funeral. Lady Samuelson felt
it was a thing I ought not to miss, and I agreed with her. It was
inconvenient to leave home, because I had a number of engagements. Still,
I felt I might regret it afterwards if I did not see it. And then, of
course, Lady Samuelson was so kind the year before last, when I had so
very much to worry me, that I feel I owe it to her to stay with her
whenever she asks me to do so. Where did you see the procession from,
"Well, on the whole I thought it better to remain at home," Mrs. Lovegrove
confessed, "though Georgie was most pressing I should go with him. You are
slender, Serena, and that makes a great deal of difference in going about.
But I find crowds and excitement very trying. And then it must all have
been very affecting and solemn. I doubted if I could witness it without
giving way too much and troubling others. It is mortifying to feel you are
spoiling the pleasure of those that are with you, and I wanted poor
Georgie to enjoy himself as much as he could."
"In that case it was certainly better to remain at home," Serena rejoined.
"I have my feelings very much under control. Even when I was quite a child
that used to be said of me. It used to irritate Susan."
"Susan has a more impetuous nature," Mrs. Lovegrove observed. The day of
domestic eclipse was happily passed. She had come into her own again;
consequently she was disposed to be slightly argumentative, sitting here
upon her own Chesterfield sofa in her own drawing-room, even with Serena.
"I wonder if she has--I mean I wonder whether Susan really has a more
impetuous nature," the latter rejoined, "or whether she is only more
wanting in self-control. I often think people get credit for strong
feelings, when it is only that they make no effort to control themselves.
And that is unfair. I never have been able to see why it was considered
so creditable to have strong feelings. They usually give a lot of
inconvenience to other people. I am not sure that it is not self-indulgent
to have strong feelings.--We had excellent places just opposite the Marble
Arch. Of course Lady Samuelson has a great deal of interest; and we saw
everything. In some ways I think, as a sight, the procession was
overrated. But I am glad I went. You can never tell whether anything is
worth seeing or not until you have seen it; and so I certainly might have
regretted if I had not gone. Still, I think you were quite wise in not
going, Rhoda, if you were likely to be upset; and then, as you say, it
must be unpleasant getting about if one is very stout. Of course, I cannot
really enter into that. I take after mamma's family. They are always
slender. But the Lovegroves often grow stout. George, of course, has, and
I should not be surprised if Susan did when she is older. But then Susan
and I are entirely different in almost everything."
"I suppose you have heard of our dear vicar being appointed to the new
bishopric of Slowby, Serena," Mrs. Lovegrove remarked. The amplitude, or
non-amplitude, of the family figure was beginning to get upon her nerves.
"Oh! dear, yes, of course I have," Serena answered with raised eyebrows
and a condescending expression of countenance. "Not that it will make very
much difference to me, I suppose. I am so little at home now. But
naturally people, hearing we knew the Nevingtons, came to us for
information about them. I don't think anybody had ever heard of Dr.
Nevington at Slowby, and so they were very glad to learn anything we could
tell them. Of course it is a very great rise for Dr. Nevington, though he
will only be a suffragan bishop. Still, he must be very much flattered,
after merely having a parish of this kind. Susan is very pleased at the
appointment. She wrote to Dr. Nevington immediately and has had a number
of letters from him. I was quite willing she should write, but she told
him how popular his appointment was in Midlandshire. And I thought that
was going rather far, because Susan has no real means of knowing whether
it is popular or not. She could only know that she thought she liked it
herself, and had praised him among her friends. And I wonder whether she
is right--I mean I wonder whether she really will like it. Of course Susan
has been very prominent and has had everything her own way with most of
the clergymen's wives in Slowby. I think that has been rather bad for
Susan and given her an undue idea of her own importance. Now naturally
Mrs. Nevington will be the head of everything and the clergymen's wives
will go for advice to her. I do not see how Susan can help disliking that.
And then Mrs. Nevington is said to be a very good public speaker. I am
perfectly certain Susan will dislike that. For I always observe that
people who speak a great deal themselves, like Susan, never get on well
with other good speakers."--She moved a little, throwing back the fronts
of her black beaded jacket--her complimentary mourning was scrupulously
correct--and adjusting the black silk tie at her throat. "Of course I may
be mistaken," she added, "but if you ask me, Rhoda, I fancy you will find
that Susan and Mrs. Nevington will not remain friends for very long."
"I am distressed to hear you express such an opinion, Serena," Mrs.
Lovegrove returned. The tone of mingled patronage and possession in which
her guest spoke of her own two particular sacred totems, vicar and
vicaress, incensed her highly. She wished she had not introduced the
subject of the Slowby bishopric.--"When the object in view is a truly good
one," she added, with some severity, "I should suppose all right-meaning
people would strive to sink petty rivalries and cooperate. I should quite
believe it would prove so in Susan's case."
"Of course she would not give Mrs. Nevington's speaking well as her
reason, if they did not remain on friendly terms," Serena returned
negligently. "But then people so very seldom give their real reasons for
what they do, Rhoda. Surely you must have observed that. I think they are
generally very willing to deceive themselves a good deal."
"I am afraid it is so with too many, Serena, and with some who would
be the last to own it when applied to themselves."--Then the wife
determined by a piece of daring strategy to carry the war into the enemy's
country.--"And that reminds me," she said. "I suppose you have heard that
Mr. Iglesias has left Trimmer's Green?"
"I do not the least know what right you have to suppose anything of the
kind, Rhoda," the lady addressed replied with a haste and asperity far
from regal. "You must have very odd ideas of the people I meet, either at
Lady Samuelson's or at Slowby, if you imagine I am likely to hear anything
about Mr. Iglesias from them. If I had not met him here, of course, I
should never have heard of him at all; and if I had never heard of him I
should have been spared a great deal. Still, after all that has occurred,
I can quiet see that Mr. Iglesias might find it better to leave Trimmer's
"Miss Eliza Hart, if you please, ma'am," this from the house-parlourmaid.
In accordance with established precedent, Serena should have risen from
the place of honour, upon the sofa, making room for the newcomer. But she
defied precedent. Acknowledging the said newcomer with the stiffest of
bows, she sat tight. Her hostess, however, proved equal to the occasion.
"Dear me, Miss Hart," she began, "I am sure you are quite the stranger.
Take that chair, will you not? And how is Mrs. Porcher? The numbers, I
trust, filling up again at Cedar Lodge? Mr. Lovegrove and myself did
truly sympathise in Mrs. Porcher's trouble in the autumn. Such a terrible
occurrence to have in your house! Of course very damaging, for a time, to
all prospects. And I shall always believe it was the great exertions he
made then that broke down poor Mr. Iglesias' health.--Yes, indeed, Miss
Hart, I regret to say he does remain very ailing. Mr. Lovegrove sees him
almost daily. He has run round to Holland Street now, has Georgie; but I
expect him back any minute.--We were just speaking of Mr. Iglesias--were
we not, Serena?--and I was about to tell Miss Lovegrove what a sweet
pretty house he has. You have seen it often no doubt, Miss Hart."
But here Serena arose, with much dignity, and retired in the direction of
"Pray do not think about me, Rhoda," she said over her shoulder, "or let
me interrupt your and your friend's conversation. I am going to see if the
carriage is here. Lady Samuelson said she might be able to send it for me.
She could not be sure, but she might. And I told her I would be on the
watch, as she objects to the horses being kept standing in this weather.
But pray do not think about me. Until it comes I can quite well amuse
Holding aside the lace curtain she looked out. Upon the rawly green grass
remnants of discoloured snow lay in unsightly patches, while the bare
branches of the plane-trees and balsam-poplars shuddered in the harsh
blast. The prospect was far from alluring, and Serena surveyed it with a
"Really, Rhoda's behaviour to me is most extraordinary," she said to
herself. "I had to mark my displeasure. For poor George's sake she ought
not to be allowed to go too far. She has grown so very self-assertive.
Last year her manner was much better. I suppose she and George have made
it up again. People who are not really ladies, like Rhoda, are always so
very much nicer when they are depressed. I wonder what has happened to
make George make it up with her!"
And then she fell very furiously to listening.
"We did talk it over, did Peachie Porcher and myself," the great Eliza was
saying, "for I do not deny, at the time of our trouble, a certain
gentleman came out very well. He may have had his reasons, but I will not
go into that, Mrs. Lovegrove. I am all for giving everybody his due. But
Peachie felt when he left it would be better the connection should cease
as far as visiting went. 'Should Mr. Iglesias call here, dear Liz,' she
said to me, 'I should not refuse to see him. But, after what has passed
and situated as I am, I cannot be too careful. And calling on a bachelor
living privately, with whom your name has been at all associated, must
invite comment. Throughout all,' she said, 'my conscience tells me I have
done my duty, and in that I must find my reward.' Very affecting, was it
"Yes," the other lady admitted, candour and natural goodness of heart
getting the better alike of resentment and diplomacy. "I always have
maintained there were many sterling qualities in Mrs. Porcher."
"So there are, the sweet pet!" Eliza responded warmly. "And I sometimes
question, Mrs. Lovegrove, whether a certain gentleman, now that he has cut
himself adrift from her, may not be beginning to find that out and wish
he had been less stand-offish and stony. Not that it would be any use now.
For, if he did not appreciate Peachie Porcher, there are other and younger
gentlemen, not a thousand miles from here, who do. I am not at liberty to
speak more plainly at present, as the poor young fellow is very shy about
his secret. A long attachment, and some might think it rather derogatory
to Peachie's position to entertain it. But straws tell which way the wind
blows; and a little bird seems to twitter to me, Mrs. Lovegrove, that if
Charlie Farge did come to the point--why--"
Miss Hart shook her leonine mane and laid her finger on her lip in an arch
and playful manner. But before her hostess could rally sufficiently from
the stupor into which this announcement plunged her to make suitable
rejoinder, a fine booming clerical voice and large clerical presence
invaded the room.
"How d'ye do, Mrs. Lovegrove? I come unannounced but not unsanctioned. I
met with your good husband in the street just now, and he encouraged me to
look in on you. Good-day to you, Miss Hart. All is well, I trust, with our
excellent friend Mrs. Porcher.--Ah! and here is Miss Serena Lovegrove.--An
unexpected piece of good fortune."
Promptly Serena had emerged from her self-imposed exile; and it was with
an air of assured proprietorship that she greeted the clergyman.
"Mrs. Nevington heard from your kind sister only this morning," he
continued. "Full of active helpfulness as usual, Mrs. Lovegrove.--She
proposes that we should quarter ourselves upon you and her for a few days,
Miss Serena, while we are seeking a temporary residence. She kindly gives
us the names of several houses which she considers worth inspection."
Here by an adroit flank movement, rapidly executed, Serena managed to
possess herself once again of the seat of honour upon the sofa, thereby
interposing a thin but impenetrable barrier between her hostess and the
latter's own particular fetish, the bishop-designate.
"You have enough room? I do not crowd you, Rhoda?" she remarked
parenthetically. Then turning sideways, so as to present an expanse
of neatly clad back and shoulder to her outraged relative, she
continued:--"I wonder which, Dr. Nevington--I mean I wonder which houses
Susan has recommended. Of course there is the Priory. But nobody has lived
in it for ages and ages. It is in a very low neighbourhood, close to the
canal and brickfields on the Tullingworth Road. I should think it was
dreadfully damp and unwholesome. And there is old Mrs. Waghorn's in Abney
Park. That is well situated and the grounds are rather nice. But the
reception-rooms are poor, I always think. Susan was fond of Mrs. Waghorn.
I cannot say I ever cared for her myself; but there is a tower to it, of
"Ah! we hardly need towers yet, Miss Lovegrove. A 'suffering bishop'--you
recall the well-worn joke?--such as myself, must not aspire to anything
approaching castles or palaces, but be content with a very modest place of
Here his unhappy hostess, sitting quite perilously near the edge of the
sofa, craned round the interposing barrier.
"But that is only a matter of time, Dr. Nevington," she said, "surely.
There is but one voice all round the Green, and through the parish
generally, that this is but the first step for you; and that it will lead
on--though I am far from wishing to hasten the death of the present
archbishop--to the primacy."
"Hardly that, hardly that," he rejoined with becoming modesty. Yet the
speech was not unpalatable to him. "Out of the mouth of babes," he said to
himself, leaning back in his chair, and eyeing--in imagination--the chaste
outline of an episcopal apron and well-cut black gaiter, while visions of
Lambeth and Canterbury floated enticingly before him.--"Hardly that. This
is little more than an embryo bishopric. Still, though it is a wrench to
leave my dear old congregation, here in this wonderful London of ours, I
cannot refuse the call to a wider sphere of usefulness. My views as a
churchman are well known. I have never, even though it might have been
professionally advantageous to me to do so, attempted any concealment."
"No, truly," Rhoda put in, still balancing and craning. "Everyone, I am
sure, must bear witness you have always been most nobly outspoken."
"I trust so," he returned. "I have never disguised the fact that I take my
stand upon the Reformation Settlement. Therefore I cannot but think it a
most hopeful sign of the times that I should receive this call to the
episcopate.--Ah, here is Lovegrove. You find us deep in matters
ecclesiastical. I only hope I am not taxing your ladies' patience too
heavily by talking on such serious subjects.--In Slowby itself that grand
old stalwart, the late Dr. Colthurst--a positively Cromwellian figure--has
left a sound Protestant tradition. But I hear--your good sister confirms
the rumour, Miss Serena--that there is a strong ritualistic party at
Tullingworth. I shall deal very roundly with persons of that persuasion.
My conviction is that we must suit our teaching to the progressive
spirit of this modern world of ours. Personally I am willing, if
necessary, to sacrifice very much so-called dogma to conciliate our worthy
Nonconformist brethren; while I shall lose no opportunity of cutting at
the roots of those Romanising tendencies which are so lamentably and
insidiously active in the very heart of our dear old National Church."
While the great drum-like voice was thus rolling and booming, George
Lovegrove had shaken hands with Serena. But there was none of the
accustomed respectful enthusiasm in his greeting. He wore a preoccupied
and dejected air. For once he looked upon that pearl of spinsterhood with
a lack-lustre and indifferent eye.
"I wonder what can have happened to George," the lady in question said
to herself, in high displeasure. "I think his manner is really very
odd--nearly as odd as Rhoda's. I wish I had not come. But then if I had
not come I should have had no opportunity of showing Rhoda what intimate
terms Susan and I are upon with the Nevingtons. And I think it is right
she should know.--Oh! that detestable Miss Hart is going. What a
dreadfully vulgar purple blouse she has on! And her hair is so unpleasant.
It always looks damp and shows the marks of the comb. I wonder why hair of
that particular colour always does look damp." Here she bowed stiffly
without rising.--"I shall simply ignore George, and not speak to him. I
think that will be sufficiently marked. But I shall stay as long as Dr.
Nevington does--I don't for one moment believe Miranda Samuelson really
intended to send the carriage--so I will just wait and go when he goes.
I think I owe it to myself to show George and Rhoda that they cannot drive
me away against my will, however much they may wish to do so."
Having come to which amiable decision Serena turned her mind and
conversation to questions of house-hunting in Slowby. The subject,
however, began to pall, before long, upon her companion. Dr. Nevington
changed his position more than once. His replies became vague and
perfunctory, while his attention evidently strayed to the conversation
taking place at the other end of the sofa.
"I fear you did not find Mr. Iglesias very bright then to-day?" the wife
was inquiring in her kindliest tones.
George Lovegrove shook his head sadly. "No, my dear, I am sorry to say
not. I have been rather broken up. I will tell you all later."
The clergyman had risen.
"Iglesias?--ah yes," he said. "I remember meeting a person of that name
here once, eh, Lovegrove? One of our parochial oversights, unfortunately.
He proved to be a dweller. His appearance pleased me and I proposed to
call on him; and then in the press of my many duties the matter was
Serena had risen likewise. A spot of colour burned on either of her
cheeks. Her eyes snapped. She carried her small head high. Her presence
asserted itself quite forcibly. Her skirts rustled. At that moment she was
young and very passably pretty--an elegant spirited Serena of eighteen,
rather than a faded and, alas! spiteful Serena of close upon fifty.
"Oh! really, I think it was just as well you did not call, Dr. Nevington,"
she cried. "I do not think it would have been in the least suitable. Of
course I may be wrong, but I do not think you would have found anything to
like in Mr. Iglesias. There was so much that was never really explained
about him.--You know you acknowledged that yourself at one time, Rhoda.
But now you and George seem to have gone round again completely.--One
cannot help knowing he associated with such very odd people; and then the
way in which he turned Roman Catholic, all of a sudden, really was
Dr. Nevington's cold, watchful glance steadied on to the speaker, then
travelled to the two other members of the little company in sharp inquiry.
George Lovegrove's innocent countenance bore an expression of agonised
entreaty, of yearning, of apology, yet of defiance. The corners of Rhoda's
mouth drooped, her large soft cheeks shook; yet she stood firm, her sorrow
tempered, and her whole warm-hearted person rendered stubborn, by virtuous
"You forget yourself greatly, Serena," she said, "and when you have time
to think it over will repent having passed such cruel remarks. They are
liable to create a very wrong impression, and cannot fail to cause severe
pain to others."
For an appreciable space the clergyman hesitated. But Slowby and the
bishopric were ahead of him; Trimmer's Green and all its quaint
unimportant little inhabitants behind. She was tedious, no doubt; but her
sister promised to be very useful, so he threw in his lot with Serena.
"Ah, well, ah, well, for I my part I admire zeal, I must confess, Mrs.
Lovegrove," he said. "No doubt these terrible lapses will occur.
Superstition and bigotry will claim their victims even in our enlightened
century, and this free England of ours. I would not judge the case of this
poor fellow, Iglesias, too harshly. Race influences are strong; and we of
the Anglo-Saxon stock, with our enormous advantages of brain, and grit,
and hard-headed manliness of character, can afford--deeply though we
deplore their weakness and errors--to be lenient toward the less favoured
foreigner. Our mission is to educate him.--And this I think you should not
have forgotten, Lovegrove. You should have acted upon it. You should have
brought your unfortunate friend to me. I should have been quite willing to
give him half an hour, or even longer. A few facts, a little plain
speaking, might have saved him from more than I quite care to contemplate,
both here and hereafter.--However, good-bye to you, Mrs. Lovegrove. You
are starting, too, Miss Serena? Assure your good, kind sister, when you
write, how gladly Mrs. Nevington and I shall avail ourselves of her
"Don't fret, don't take it too much to heart, Georgie dear," the wife said
soothingly later. "The vicar did seem very stern, but that was owing to
Serena. I am afraid she's a terrible mischief-maker, is Serena. She turns
things inside out so in saying them, that you do not recognise your own
words again. All this afternoon she was most trying. If Dr. Nevington
heard the real story, he would never blame you. You must not fret."
"I am not fretting about Dr. Nevington," he answered, "but about Dominic.
I am afraid we shall not have him with us very much longer, Rhoda."
"Oh! dear, oh! dear, you don't mean it? Never!" she cried in accents of
genuine distress. "Did you see him, Georgie?"
"No, Miss St. John was there."
The wife's large cheeks shook again.
"You know," she said, "I am never very partial to hearing anything about
that Miss St. John. Actresses are all very well in the theatre, I daresay,
but they are out of place in private houses. And from what I hear, though
there may be nothing really wrong with many of them, they are all sadly
free in their manners. I should be very hurt if you got into the habit of
frequenting their society much, Georgie.--But there, I'm sure I cannot
tell what is coming to all the women nowadays! You don't seem as if you
could be safe with any one of them. To think of a middle-aged person like
Mrs. Porcher, for instance, taking up with that little snip of a Farge,
and she old enough to be his mother!"
The wife bustled about the room straightening the chairs, patting cushions
into place, folding up the handkerchief which, in the interests of human
conversation, had been thrown over the cage of the all-too-articulate
"I feel terribly stirred up somehow," she said, "what with the vicar, and
Serena, and all the talk about Roman Catholics and Protestants, and Mrs.
Porcher's engagement, too, and then this bad news of Mr. Iglesias--not but
that I am sure enough we shall meet him in heaven some day, if we can ever
contrive to get there ourselves in all this chatter and worry--"
She laid the handkerchief away in the drawer of the work-table.
"Such an afternoon," she declared, "what with one thing and another! I
always do say there's nothing for making unpleasantnesses like religion
and marriages.--But, thank God, through all of it you are spared to me,
Outside, the slanting spring sunshine visited the sheltered strip of
garden in clear lights and transparent shadows. The small grass-plat
surrounding the rockery was brightly green. In the stone basin the surface
of the water trembled, glistening in broken curves of silver white. Along
the narrow border, beneath the soot-stained eastern wall, yellow and mauve
crocuses and yellow aconites opened wide, greeting the gentle warmth.
Trees in the neighbouring gardens were thick with bud. Busily the sparrows
and starlings came and went.
Within, the house--though not uncheerful, thanks to a scrupulous
cleanliness, warm colourings, and the peculiar mellowness which comes to
rooms and furnishings that, through prolonged association, have grown in a
great mutual friendliness of aspect--was very still, with the strange,
almost eerie, stillness which seems to listen and to wait.--A singular
stillness, from which the rough utilitarian activities of ordinary life
are banished, the rude noise of them suspended, while spiritual presences,
rare apprehensions, exquisite memories and hopes, mysterious invitations
of mingled alarm and ecstasy, come forth, taking on form and voice,
passing lightly to and fro--an enchantment, yet in a manner fearful from
the subtlety of their being and piercing intimacy of their speech.
Personality, that supreme moral and emotional factor in human life, must
of necessity create an atmosphere about it, permeated with its individual
tastes and mental attributes, distinct and powerful in proportion to its
individual distinction and its strength. And, without being overfanciful,
it may be confidently asserted that, for some weeks now, ever since indeed
the specialists--summoned in consultation at the good Lovegroves' and the
Lady of the Windswept Dust's urgent request--had pronounced the cardiac
affection, from which Dominic Iglesias suffered, likely to terminate
fatally in the near future, this living stillness, this alert
tranquillity, had been more or less sensible to all those who entered the
house, offering an arresting contrast to the multitudinous rush and
clamour of London without. But to-day the impression was no longer an
intermittent and fugitive one, as heretofore. It was constant and
complete, those spiritual visitants being, as it would seem, in full
possession; so that the hours appeared to move reluctantly, and as though
enjoining watchfulness, a carefulness and economy even in prevailing
repose, lest any remaining moment and the message of it should be
overlooked and lost.
It was characteristic of Iglesias that learning, in as far as the
consultant doctors could diagnose it, the exact conditions of his physical
state, he should refuse all experiment, however humane in intention or
plausible in theory. For he had no sympathy with the modern greediness and
worship of physical life, which is willing to sacrifice the decencies and
dignities of it to its possible prolongation. Courteously but plainly he
bade his advisers depart. The body, though an excellent servant, is a
contemptible master; and Iglesias proposed that, while his soul continued
to inhabit it, it should, as always before, be kept very much in its
place. It must remain unobtrusive, obedient, not daring to usurp, in its
present hour of failure and impediment, an interest and consideration to
which, in its full usefulness and vigour, it had not presumed to aspire.
Therefore Dominic Iglesias held calmly on his way, seeing the circle
of his occupations, pleasures, and activities dwindle and decrease,
yet maintaining not only his serenity of mind, but his accustomed
self-respecting outward refinement of bearing and habit. To meet death
with a gracious stoicism, well-dressed and standing upright, is, rightly
considered, a very fine art, reflecting much credit upon the successful
professor of it.
And it was thus that, on the day in question, Mr. Iglesias sat waiting, in
the quaint irregularly shaped drawing-room of the old house in Holland
Street, himself the centre of that peopled stillness, that alert
tranquillity, which so strangely and sensibly filled it. Looking out of
the low window, he could see the shadow of the houses shrink and the light
broaden in the little garden below, as the sun travelled westward. Looking
into the room itself, the many familiar objects and rich sober colours of
it, quickened by a flickering of fire-light, were pleasant to his sense.
The images which passed before him, whether actually visible or not he
hardly knew, appeared beautiful. Words and phrases which occurred to him
were beautiful likewise. But all were seen and heard remotely, as through
some softly dazzling medium which, while heightening the charm of them,
produced a delicate confusion leaving him uncertain whether he really
slept or woke. More than once, not without effort, he roused himself; but
only to slip back again into the same state of fair yet gently distracted
At last the sound of opening casements in the dining-room underneath and
of a voice, touched with laughter, reached him.
"There, you absurdities--skip, scuttle, take exercise, catch birds,
improve your figures!" Poppy cried, clapping her hands encouragingly as
she stood at the head of the flight of iron steps down which, with her
foot, she shot the toy spaniels unceremoniously into the sunny garden
The little creatures, welcoming their freedom, forgetful for once of their
languid overbred airs, scampered away yapping and skirmishing in the
merriest fashion about the grass-plat and flower-beds. The window closed
again and there followed a sound of voices, interjectional on Poppy's
part, low and continuous on that of Mrs. Peters, the house-keeper. Then a
pause, so prolonged that Iglesias, who had rallied all his energy and
prepared to rise and to go forward to meet his guest, sank away once more
into half-consciousness which neither actually sleeps or wakes. When he
came fully to himself Poppy was sitting on the low window-seat close
beside him. Her back was to the light and his sight was somewhat clouded,
so that at first he failed to see her clearly; but he knew that her mood
had changed and her laughter departed, through the sympathy of her touch,
she holding his hand as it lay along the arm of the chair. He would have
spoken, but she stopped him.
"No, dear man, don't hurry," she said. "I know already. Peters has just
told me, now, downstairs, that you received the Last Sacraments this
morning. That's why I didn't come up sooner. I couldn't see you directly,
somehow. I had--well, I had to get my second wind, dearly beloved, so to
speak. You see it's such a heavenly day that I couldn't help feeling
happier about you. I had persuaded myself those doctors were a pack of
croaking old grannies whose collective wisdom had eventuated in a wild
mistake, and that, given time and summer weather, you would be better
again--you know you have had ups and downs lots of times before--and that
then, when the theatre closes and I have my holiday, I'd carry you off,
somewhere, anywhere, back to your own fierce, passionate Spain, perhaps,
and nurse and coax and care for you till living grew so pretty a business
you really wouldn't have the conscience to quit."
Poppy's voice was sweet with caressing tones, sympathetic in quality as
her lingering touch.
"Haven't you, perhaps, been a little premature after all?" she said. "Has
it really and truly come to that? Mightn't you have put off those last
grim ceremonies a trifle longer, and let them wait?"
"They are not grim, dearest friend, but full of strong consolation,"
Iglesias answered, smiling. He began to see her face more clearly. Her
expression was tragic, a world of anguish in it, for all the restraint of
her manner and playful glibness of her speech. "Nor, in any case," he
added, "can they hasten the event."
"I'm not altogether sure of that," Poppy declared rebelliously.
"I could not quite trust myself as to what the day might bring forth,"
Iglesias continued. "In point of fact, I have gained strength as it has
gone on.--And so it seemed wisest and most fitting to ask for the
performance of those sacred rites while I was still of sound mind, and
ready in my perception of that in which I was taking part."
"You have suffered?" Poppy said.
"Nothing unendurable. The nights are somewhat wearisome, since I cannot
lie down, in ordinary fashion, to rest. But I sit here, or wander through
the quiet, kindly house, contentedly enough. And I am well cared for--have
no fear as to that. Peters is a faithful creature. She nursed my mother at
the last, and her presence is grateful to me, for association's sake."
Iglesias straightened himself up.
"There, there," he said, "do not be too sad. The road is not such a very
hard one to tread. The last few months have been the happiest I remember
since my childhood. Any anxieties I felt concerning you are set at rest.
You are famous, and will be more famous yet, and I know I shall live in
your remembrance while you live. It is no slight thing, after all, for a
man to have been loved so well by the two women whom he loved. And for the
rest, dearest friend, as one draws near to the edge of the great shadow,
which we call death, one begins to trust more and fuss less; looking to
the next step only, so that one may take it neither with faltering nor
with presumptuous haste."
"Ah!" Poppy cried, "that's all very well for you. But where do I come in?
I lose you."
Iglesias smiled, lifting his shoulders slightly and raising his hands.
"Yes," he said, "it seems that sorrow, here on earth, is always, sooner or
later, the guerdon of love. Why, I know not; but so it is, as the most
sacred and august of all examples testifies. Only let us be thankful, you
and I, that to us this parting, and the inevitable pain of it, comes while
love is still in its full strength, having endured nothing unworthy, no
shame, or diminution, or disillusionment. The more bitter the wrench, the
finer the memory, and the more desirable the meeting which lies ahead,
however far distant in time it may be and in difference of condition."
"Yes, dear man, yes, I dare say--no doubt," Poppy answered brokenly. "Only
I can't rise to these philosophic heights. I'm right here, don't you see,
my feet well on the floor, planted in brutal commonplace. I shall want
you--just simply I shall want you, and you won't be there, and I shall be
most cut-throat horribly lonely and sad. But, looking at you, still I
don't believe it. I won't believe it. I shall keep you a long while yet."
She leaned over and kissed him gently on the cheek.
"Now I must go," she said, "if I'm to get any dinner before the theatre. I
would have liked to stay, and put my poor little understudy on, so as to
give her a chance. She's a nice little girl--not half stupid, and really